How to review a car - On the road

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  • Our road tests explained
  • What's behind the ratings
  • Written by our road test team
1) Performance
When assessing a car’s performance, we’re guided by its fitness for purpose rather than outright speed.

We know that supermini buyers don’t expect Porsche acceleration, but they do expect a car that's nippy around town and able to hold its own on the motorway. People buying a sports car want to be blasted into next week, of course, while most family car buyers value in-gear flexibility above all else.

We also test each car in real-world environments: city, motorway and country routes are all used as part of our assessment. Our performance tests also take into account how effectively a car’s brakes and gearbox function.

In addition, every car featured in a What Car? group test is subjected to a series of rigorous examinations at a private test facility. Here, using the latest GPS technology, we perform acceleration and deceleration tests to give an in-depth guide to each car’s flexibility, outright speed and stopping power.

2) Ride and handling
This is where the experience of our team comes into its own. In an area that is so subjective, the ability to place a car in relation to its rivals is crucial.

Again, fitness for purpose is the guiding principle. Ride comfort takes precedence in a big luxury saloon, while agile handling is more important in a hot hatch.

Once again, each car we test is driven on a huge range of roads including city streets, winding country lanes and long straight motorways to assess its all-round ability.

We’re looking for cars that strike the right balance between comfort and control, for whatever type of car it is.

We can glean even more information in our group tests. Using a private test track, we drive the cars back-to-back on a variety of different courses that push each car to its limit – allowing us to detect even the smallest of differences between them.

3) Refinement
What we call refinement is often referred to as Noise, Vibration and Harshness (NVH). It describes how easy a car is to live with in terms of interior noise levels and the smoothness of its controls.

We use a meter to gauge cabin noise at both 30mph and 70mph, but assessing a car’s refinement is far more subjective, so the experience of our team is also a vital element. The fact that we have driven almost every car on the market means that our team can accurately assess a vehicle's refinement in relation to its rivals.

Engine-, wind-, road- and suspension noise are taken into account, too. Every car is driven on a variety of roads to gain a thorough overall impression.

We also assess the smoothness of how a car drives. A jerky gearbox, vibrations through the steering wheel or shunt through the transmission are all factors that have a big impact on everyday ease of use, so these are issues that we look out for.

How to review a car - In the cabin

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